"How can you sing an encore after Spem?” James Botcher shares his thoughts on performing Spem in alium with the Tallis Scholars.


On a rainy Saturday in mid-February NYCGB Chamber Choir and Fellowship members, huddled up, warm and dry, in Pimlico to rehearse for their concert the next day.  After greeting each other as old friends, we got on with the task at hand - rehearsing Byrd's Gaudeamus Omnes, the plainchant from Allegri's Miserere and, most notably, Thomas Tallis' Spem in alium in preparation for our concert the next day with the Tallis Scholars. 

This amazing work by Tallis is split into eight choirs, with forty individual parts.  This made preparing and performing this piece no small feat, especially considering we weren't singing with the Tallis Scholars until the following day, so there were parts missing!  Luckily we were under the expert guidance of our musical director, Ben Parry, who glued the music together seamlessly.

Before we began our rehearsal we were led in a physical and vocal warm up by Fellow, Ella Rainbird-Earley.  Limbering up together was a good chance to get into the right mindset before our rehearsal and to have a moment to breathe, leaving the outside world at the door.  We then dove headlong into the pieces and towards the end of the day we were joined and led by the Founder and Director of the Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips. 

The next day was full of excitement.  After travelling through the beautiful Essex countryside we arrived at our destination of Saffron Hall in Audley End.  We found our dressing rooms before a full rehearsal and couldn't believe how the music came alive with all parts present.  

The concert went off without a hitch.  Sweeping from the seemingly-effortless performances of the Tallis Scholars to the sensitive singing of the NYCC's Allegri Plainchant and playful dancing of Byrd's Gaudeamus Omnes, the concert was loved by the audience and the choir alike.  The concert ended with Tallis' Spem in alium to roaring applause.  To paraphrase the words of Peter Phillips, "how can you sing an encore after Spem?  ...The only thing to follow it with is more Spem."  So that's what we did.  As the audience fell so silent that you could have heard a pin drop we began the last few minutes of the piece again from the final, triumphant "respice". 

Afterwards it was clear how much of an eye-opening event this had been.  It's truly a rare experience to be able to perform such music as we had, and to perform with such an ensemble as the Tallis Scholars so early on in a career is even more exceptional.  Backstage was abuzz with ecstatic chatter about the concert and how much we had learnt from it all. Absolutely electric.


The NYCGB Fellowship Programme is supported by Principal Programme Supporter ABRSM with additional generous support from the Ofenheim Trust, and by programme partners Making Music and AOTOS (Association of Teachers of Singing).